Scuttlebutt

Friday, April 12, 2013

Advice … and a warning

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2013 at 11:44 AM

A lot of folks can take credit for convincing Gov. Bobby Jindal to “park” his much-maligned “tax reform” plan last week, none more so than Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). In the Capitol’s pack of lobbying hounds, LABI is The Big Dog — particularly on tax matters.

Jindal’s proposed tax-swap plan was already on life support even before LABI pulled the plug on it on March 27. When the state’s leading business lobby announced its opposition to any plan that would increase the tax burden on businesses (which Team Jindal admitted the plan would do), the patient was officially dead.

Or was it?

Jindal is still prodding lawmakers to eliminate the individual income tax. He just isn’t offering any advice as to how to do it.

As Juneau noted in his latest weekly column, the governor’s latest move actually exposes his true objective: eliminating the individual income tax at any cost. There’s danger in that.

Juneau has led LABI for decades. He has seen — and supported — many attempts at tax reform. His column offers some “unsolicited advice” to lawmakers. They should take it.

I’ve been around this process almost as long as Juneau. I’m quoting his advice below — and adding a warning of what will happen if that advice is not heeded.

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Separated at birth?

Posted By on Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 2:55 PM

Nagin-Gusman.jpeg

When was the last time you saw Marlin Gusman and Ray Nagin on the same courthouse steps … or on the same beach in Jamaica? Uh-huh. See where I’m going with this?

It never occurred to me until the sheriff’s bizarre testimony in federal court on Thursday (April 4), and his rant afterward, that he and our former mayor may have been separated at birth. They certainly seem to think alike, if you can call their recent ramblings the product of rational thought.

No need to rehash Nagin’s dementia. It’s a given. But I always figured Gusman was compos mentis. Aloof and prickly at times, yes, but no dummy — and certainly not out of touch with reality.

He sure had me fooled.

What is it about some politicians that makes them retreat into isolation under fire, not just into a political bunker, but also into some alternate version of reality? Richard Nixon in the final days of Watergate comes to mind, as does Nagin after Hurricane Katrina.

Gusman’s performance on the witness stand, after some devastating jailhouse videos were played in federal court two days earlier, put him right up there in that pantheon of paranoia with Tricky Dick and C. Ray.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Jindal’s 47 Percent Solution

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2013 at 6:49 PM

(NOTE: There's an UPDATE to this post on the jump page regarding the current sales tax exemptions that Gov. Jindal wants to keep if his tax plan is passed.)

Gov. Bobby Jindal finally unveiled his tax-swap plan last week — almost. After promising to produce a bill by March 15, he instead gave lawmakers a two-page summary of high-minded but vague talking points, which at least was more than the one-page summary he previously used.

For example, he acknowledged that he wants to raise the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5.88 percent — a hike of 47 percent. That will give most parts of Louisiana the highest combined state and local sales tax rates in the country. (Jindal ignores that aspect of the plan.) At the same time, his handout alluded to eliminating “unnecessary” state sales tax exemptions, but didn’t cite any in particular.

It was more than a tad ironic — metaphoric might be more like it — that the live online video stream of Jindal’s address last Thursday to the joint meeting of the House Ways & Means Committee and the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee had no audio. Not long after he left the witness table, the audio came back on. The next day, the archived version of the video still had no audio for Jindal’s presentation.

Given the governor’s penchant for keeping his most controversial initiatives under tight wraps until the last possible minute, one can’t help wondering if the audio blackout was a technical glitch or a Machiavellian ploy straight out of Richard Nixon’s playbook.

In any event, Jindal won’t be able to play hide-the-ball much longer. That strategy worked fine last year with his education reform package, but things are different this year. For starters, it was relatively easy then to sell the idea that teachers are responsible for Louisiana’s poor educational outcomes. This year, it won’t be so easy to convince people that paying the highest sales taxes in the country will be good for business.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Election set to succeed Rep. Ligi

Posted By on Tue, Dec 18, 2012 at 10:21 AM

Louisiana House Speaker Chuck Kleckley has called a special election to succeed state Rep. Tony Ligi, R-Metairie, who has prospectively resigned his seat representing House District 79. Ligi will become the executive director and legal counsel for the Jefferson Business Council. He submitted his letter of resignation to the House on Friday, effective January 1.

The primary election will be held on Saturday, March 2, and the runoff, if needed, will be on Saturday, April 6.

Qualifying will begin Wednesday, Jan. 9, and end at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 11.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Jan, Jim Mann to "retire" by Friday

Posted By on Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 3:52 PM

Sources at federal court confirm that veteran assistant U.S. Attorneys Jan and Jim Mann will "retire" by the end of the day Friday. Both have been under scrutiny — Jan Mann under fire — in connection with the ongoing online commenting scandal that led to the retirement of U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. Jan Mann was Letten's first assistant until she was outed as an online commenter at Nola.com. Her husband, Jim Mann, is also a top supervisor in the U.S. Attorney's office.

The Manns' retirements are the latest developments in the online ranting saga that began last March when a lawsuit filed by River Birch co-owner Fred Heebe alleged that Sal Perricone, another veteran assistant U.S. Attorney, was posting acerbic comments at Nola.com under the nom-de-plume HenryLMencken1951 and other aliases. Perricone admitted the allegation and resigned.

In the aftermath of the Perricone debacle, Letten told the press, the public and the courts that Perricone acted alone and that no one else in his office was commenting online. Jan Mann, as his top assistant, was already posting but stopped when Perricone was busted, according to a separate lawsuit against her by Heebe. She not only stood by silently and allowed Letten to make inaccurate pronouncements about the scope of the online commenting problem, but she also oversaw — by virtue of a direct assignment from Letten — what turns out to be a bogus "investigation" of alleged leaks and online comments by Justice Department personnel in the local office. No evidence has surfaced to date that Letten knew about Jan Mann's online comments.

When Jan Mann was outed by Heebe's latest lawsuit as the author of online comments by "eweman," she at first refused to comment, then admitted that she did post comments (but not that she was "eweman) — and then refused to resign, despite pressure from all directions on Letten to let her go. Letten instead demoted her (she has federal civil service protection, so firing her could have been problematic).

Jim Mann is also a close pal of Perricone and is widely suspected of at least knowing about his wife's online activity. The Manns and Perricone constituted a troika of tough-talking federales who seemed to enjoy not only putting crooks in jail but also engaging in a large dose of hubris in the process. Attorneys generally are barred by ethical rules from commenting on pending cases, and federal prosecutors are specifically barred by DOJ regulations from that sort of thing.

The DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility has been charged with investigating the online ranting scandal. A new interim U.S. Attorney has been appointed (Dana Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia), and another federal prosecutor (John Horn from the Northern District of Georgia) has been brought in to re-open Jan Mann's tainted "investigation" into possible leaks from the office.

The Manns' retirements potentially signal the beginning of a long period of "righting the ship" by Boente and his successor.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

After Letten

Posted By on Fri, Dec 7, 2012 at 12:47 AM

The late Mayor Dutch Morial once told me, “In this game, it’s not your enemies you have to worry about. It’s your friends — they’ll do you in every time.” I thought of that as I watched U.S. Attorney Jim Letten resign. Letten, like so many others in public life — including, ironically, some that he prosecuted — was brought down by his friends.

Letten had a remarkable prosecutorial run. He put a lot of crooks in jail, and a few more appear on their way there.

His demise came at the hands of two of his most trusted deputies — former First Assistant Jan Mann and former trial supervisor Sal Perricone — who now face potential criminal exposure themselves for their inappropriate and unprofessional online rants. Ironically, Letten always gave his colleagues the credit for his office’s success.

Two of those colleagues paid him back by causing his downfall. Mann and Perricone’s online histrionics, coupled with Mann’s apparent mendacity in her handling of an in-house investigation into leaks and online postings (more irony), became too much for the DOJ to bear. Letten had to go, and he accepted his fate with his hallmark grit.

What now?

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

John LaBruzzo running for legislative seat again?

Posted By on Wed, Nov 21, 2012 at 1:57 PM

Former (and future?) state Rep. John LaBruzzo.
  • Former (and future?) state Rep. John LaBruzzo.
When then-state Rep. John LaBruzzo of Metairie lost a hotly contested race against fellow state Rep. Nick Lorusso of Lakeview in the 2011 statewide elections, many concluded his political career was over, or at least in sidetracked for a while. LaBruzzo and Lorusso, both Republicans, were thrown into the same legislative district after the 2010 Census and redistricting.

Now there’s talk that LaBruzzo could be running again for a legislative seat — this time from Baton Rouge — and soon.

LaBruzzo reportedly moved to Baton Rouge earlier this year — coincidentally, into the House district of Rep. Clif Richardson, R-Central, who announced his resignation last week, effective Jan. 2. Richardson has been battling cancer for some time.

Under the cut: More details, and what LaBruzzo says ...

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Friday, August 10, 2012

The Gospel of Lucas

Posted By on Fri, Aug 10, 2012 at 4:20 PM

Now it happened that at this time Caesar Piyush issued a decree that vouchers should be made available to every undereducated child in the land. These vouchers — the first — issued while many public schools in Louisiana were failing, and so every prophet with an eye for profit went to enroll as many students as possible, each in his own parish.

They came from all corners of the state, to Baton Rouge, to apply for vouchers, so that their empty classrooms and their dwindling bank accounts might be fattened.

And they were not disappointed, for Piyush showered his faithful with vouchers like manna in the desert. No one knew whence these vouchers came, for they appeared as if in the night, and Piyush refused to answer any man who questioned his purposes or his decisions, and he commanded his voucher procurator, John, likewise to bear no inquiries.

Now at that time there arose in the Ninth Ward a prophet, named Lucas, who called himself The Apostle. He proclaimed that the Lord had spoken to him, telling him, “I bring you news of great joy. Today in the town of Baton Rouge there are thousands of taxpayer-funded vouchers available for you to enroll children in your shabby little school. Go forth and obtain your share, for they will lead you to the land of milk and honey.”

Lucas did as the Lord commanded him, and the Lord made smooth his path to obtain 80 vouchers from Piyush and John, though Lucas had requested more than twice that number. But Lucas saw that it was good. And prophetable.

“I am truly The Apostle,” he proclaimed. “Suffer your little children unto me, and I will make them whold.”

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Supreme Standoff

Posted By on Thu, Jul 12, 2012 at 11:51 PM

The nastiest political fight in Louisiana this year won’t be the presidential race, or even the pitched battle in the 3rd Congressional District between U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry, two GOP incumbents cast into the same district by reapportionment.

No, the real donnybrook will be the fight to become Louisiana’s next chief justice. Current Chief Justice Kitty Kimball announced her retirement effective Jan. 31, 2013. The Louisiana Constitution decrees that the justice “oldest in point of service” on the Supreme Court shall be chief justice.

That seems clear enough, but this is Louisiana, where even the clear intent of a plainly worded law can be muddied up like a swamp. Hence the ongoing legal and political battle between Justices Bernette Johnson, Jeff Victory and Jeannette Knoll.

Johnson’s supporters say she got there first on Oct. 31, 1994, and therefore she should be the next chief. Supporters of Victory and Knoll, who arrived in 1995 and 1997, respectively, say those justices arrived before Johnson because Johnson technically was elected to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal in 1994 — but was assigned to the Supreme Court under a consent decree that resolved a landmark Voting Rights Act decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Shocked … SHOCKED!

Posted By on Fri, Jun 22, 2012 at 12:21 PM

The recent debacle over Louisiana’s tax credits for vehicles that run on alternative fuels reminds me of a memorable scene from Casablanca. In the classic 1942 film, Capt. Louis Renault, the ethically malleable chief of the local gendarmes, loudly blows his police whistle and announces to an overflow crowd at Rick’s Café that he is closing the popular nightclub and casino.

When Rick, portrayed by Humphrey Bogart, demands to know why, Renault piously proclaims, “I’m shocked — SHOCKED! — to find that gambling is going on in here!”

At that moment a croupier hands a wad of cash to Renault and says, with perfect deadpan, “Your winnings, sir.”

Renault reflexively takes the cash and says to the croupier, “Oh, thank you very much.” Then, without missing a beat, he turns to the crowd and shouts as he waves his cash-filled hand, “Everybody out at once!”

That scene perfectly sums up the hypocrisy on parade in Baton Rouge these days as relates to Act 469 of 2009. The act grants income tax credits up to $3,000 for those who buy vehicles that burn “alternative fuels.” The act defines such fuels broadly, including “compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, biofuel, biodiesel, methanol, ethanol, and electricity.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the measure into law … then everybody pretty much forgot about it.

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